Moore in Brandenburg: The dilemma between climate protection and agriculture

Plans in Brandenburg

Dealing with moors reveals dilemma between climate protection and agriculture

Sun 11/19/23 | 11:37 | Of Stefanie Otto


Audio: Brandenburg Antenna | November 6, 2023 | Sabine Tzitschke | Image: rbb

Brandenburg needs to re-wet a quarter of its drained moors for greater climate protection. The protectors of the Moors demand that there be even more. Farmers, on the other hand, fear losing their grasslands to feed livestock. By Stefanie Otto

  • 95 percent of Brandenburg’s former wastelands have been drained
  • Drained areas emit more CO2 than all the traffic in the country
  • A quarter of the moors will be rewetted
  • Farmers are concerned about grasslands as a source of fodder

“Many people see a meadow like this and don’t even think that there is a moorland underneath. In reality, it doesn’t look like a moorland, but rather a beautiful green meadow,” explains Christina Grätz, a biologist at the Climate Moor Working Group while digging the spade into the ground.

He examines the state of the heath in a pasture in the so-called Netzen polder near the Lehnin monastery in the Potsdam-Mittelmark district. Dark brown, almost black, soil appears under the grass, forming greasy clumps. “This means that the peat is already very decomposed due to drainage,” says Grätz.

Moorland soil badly decomposed by draining nets near Lehnin Monastery.  Extract from the documentation.
Moors badly decomposed by drainage | Image: rbb

95 percent of the former Brandenburg moors were converted into pastures or even fields. Ditches extract water from the landscape and pumping stations pump it into rivers through canals. In Brandenburg alone this network of ditches has a length of 24,000 kilometers. This was considered necessary, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, to ensure food supplies. Because only in drained areas could fodder for animals be grown and harvested with heavy machinery.

Drained peatlands emit more CO2 than all the traffic in the country

Even then there was criticism. But the problem only became known in wide circles with the growing awareness of climate change, as Lukas Landgraf reports. The landscape ecologist is responsible for the protection of moors at the State Environment Office. Intact peatlands store more carbon than forests []. But as the water sinks, the peat breaks down and forms CO2.

In Brandenburg, drained peat bogs emit 7.2 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than all the traffic in Brandenburg []. Lukas Landgraf warns that there is no time to waste: “The peat continues to breathe. And as long as the water is deep, the microorganisms can do their work. But we want to raise the water level and protect the peat so that cultivation can continue. Otherwise, it will end for the next generation.”

Greenhouse gas emissions from moorland soils - Brandenburg (Source: Greifswald Moor Centrum)Summary of greenhouse gas emissions from Brandenburg peatlands

The higher the water level, the better the climate balance

For the remaining carbon to remain in the moor soil, the water level would need to be raised. Every centimeter more reduces emissions. Germany has set the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Initially, emissions from peatlands will be reduced by five million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. This represents around ten percent of current annual emissions from the used wastelands.

For Brandenburg, this means a reduction of at least 750,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This is also the goal of the moorland protection program, adopted by the state in March 2023.

A quarter of the old peatlands will be rewetted

This would require re-wetting 50,000 hectares of moors, that is, around a quarter of the area of ​​moors currently in use. The State commissioned Christina Grätz and the Klimamoor working group to accompany this project and advise the users and owners of the areas.

“For climate protection, it might even make sense for all Brandenburg moors to look the same as before,” explains Christina Grätz. “But we have a lot of areas that are used for agriculture and where there are jobs and businesses, there is a passion for it and that’s why agricultural use in these areas needs to be maintained.”

Many farmers against the flooding of the moors

But farmers are still unclear about how climate management and protection in the moors should go hand in hand. Farmer Heino Tietje has 1,200 dairy cows. The areas where he collects food for the animals are in the Ucker Valley, also a former wasteland. “We can create value from this herb that no one else can use,” says Tietje. “We produce about 20,000 liters of milk per year per hectare of moorland. This is enough for 60 people.”

Biologist Christina Grätz and landscape ecologist Lukas Landgraf examine a rewetted wasteland.  Extract from the documentation. Monitoring in the rewetted wasteland: biologist Christina Grätz and landscape ecologist Lukas Landgraf walk through a wet meadow

Three quarters of its grasslands would be affected by rewetting. Many farmers have become accustomed to their land being dry all year round and have focused all their production on it. Landowners are also skeptical and fear that their land will lose value if it returns to being wet year-round. “Valuable plants do not grow in flooded areas,” worries Heino Tietje. “Here we have to be able to guarantee basic food for our cows. And if everything floods, then we won’t have it.”

Driving, fertilizing and harvesting would also be more difficult or impossible in wetter areas, the farmer says, and at first he doesn’t see a common denominator. However, the Minister of Environment and Agriculture, Axel Vogel (The Greens), does believe so. At the “Future Dialogue” in Prenzlau in June, he explained to the region’s farmers: “We are not going to make the moors CO2-free. Rather, our goal is to reduce CO2 emissions. But that means that In the end it will be 30 centimeters below the ground, not 50, not 70, not 90 centimeters.

The compromise should allow agriculture and climate protection

Raising the water level to at least 30 centimeters below the grass should make both things possible. Keep greenhouse gases in the soil and allow current crops to continue. However, what looks like a compromise proposal raises new questions for farmers. How can you keep the water level the same everywhere if the terrain is uneven? How should water be regulated when there is heavy rain or dry periods?

This requires accurate hydrological reports, water permits and someone to monitor the ditches and dams. But the Minister could not say how quickly it would happen: “I cannot give you a time horizon. But what you must take into account in your planning is that he will no longer be able to carry out intensive operations.” The deep drainage of the moors becomes.”

Not having animals is not an option for many farmers

Some farmers are willing to take new paths and try wetland farming. The moor vegetation that would then predominate there could be transformed into construction panels, insulating material, packaging or substitutes for peat. For this, there are already state financing programs, which are also in great demand. But downstream processing and the market for these new products are still in their infancy.

Farmer Heino Tietje, like many of his colleagues, cannot imagine that the barn could be empty and dedicates himself to nothing other than the cows. He also just invested in new stable technology. Rewetting is a threat to him and his business. “The question is what to do. If we then exchange land so we can acquire more arable land. But the land is distributed and used by other farmers who also make a living from it. It’s a very difficult situation. And I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

In it November 21, 2023 rbb sends around 20:15 the documentation “The dilemma of the Moors: between cows and climate protection”

Broadcast: rbb television, November 21, 2023, 8:15 p.m.

Contributed by Stefanie Otto

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